The Case For Designer Landline Phones

Long before the idea of hot dog-shaped iPhone cases, Otter Boxen, or even those swappable Nokia face plates, people were just as likely to express themselves with their landline phones. Growing up at my house in the 80s, the Slimline on the kitchen wall was hidden inside a magneto wall set from the early 1900s, the front of which swung out to reveal the modern equipment behind it. Back in my bedroom, I had the coolest phone ever, a see-through Unisonic with candy-colored guts. Down in the basement was my favorite extension, tactility-wise: a candy apple-red wall unit with dimly-lit circular push buttons that were springy and spongy and oh-so fun to dial.

Popular culture shows us that people were dreaming of cool telephone enclosures before they were even a thing. Obviously, TV secret agent Maxwell Smart’s shoe phone wasn’t plausible for the technology of that era, but it also wasn’t really feasible for aesthetic reasons. For decades, phone subscribers had to use whatever equipment Ma Bell had to offer, and you couldn’t just buy the things outright at the mall — you had to lease the hardware from her, and pay for the service.

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Evan Doorbell’s Telephone World

Ah, phone phreaking. Some of us are just old enough to remember the ubiquity of land lines, but just young enough to have missed out on the golden years of phreaking. There’s something nostalgic about the analog sounds of the telephone, and doubly so when you understand what each click and chunk sound means. If this wistful feeling sounds familiar, then you too will appreciate [Evan Doorbell] and his recordings of 1970s telephone sounds. He’s been slowly working through his old recordings, and compiling them into a series of narrated tours of the phreak subculture.

[Evan]’s introduction to exploring the phone system started from a misdialed number, and an odd message. He describes that recorded “wrong number” message as being very different from the normal Ma Bell messages — this one was almost sultry. What number did he have to dial to hear that unique recording again? What follows is a youth spent in pursuit of playing with the phone system, though it would be more accurate to say the “phone systems”, as discovering the differences between the various local phone exchanges is a big part of the collection. Check out the first tape in the series after the break.
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